Zack’s Story

Most of the animals on our farm service a food purpose.  We like to know where our food comes from and how it was treated before it became food.  It is very important to me that my children grow up knowing that even though an animal is intended for food it still deserves a decent life and respect as a living being.  “Zack,” one of the steers is nearing the end of his time with us and I feel that his story is unique and should be shared.

The end of April 2016, about six weeks after my last daughter was born.  This is significant in the fact that I had major complications delivering her, resulting in extensive abdominal surgery (please see the link to that story at the bottom of the page).  At this time I was really just starting to function again.  Just days before I had been cleared to drive again and allowed to lift my baby, but our fair deadline was approaching and my daughter was in need of her dairy project for the year.

Now, there is little cuter than a brand new Jersey calf, and Zack was no exception.  Roughly the size of a small Labrador retriever, my husband carried him from the trailer to his new pen, complete with a heat lamp, fluffy straw, and some hay to nibble on, he even had a sweater vest!

 

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Zack’s arrival on our farm

 

The first night went ok for us, he drank a little milk from his bucket and was comfortable in his new home.  The next morning things started to go south.  Zack didn’t want his bucket for breakfast.  I could only coax him to drink a little a few hours later while the babies napped in the house and only a little more at dinner.  Zack was obviously growing weaker.  Later that evening my husband went to check on him for the night and called me from the barn (gotta love cell phones!), Zack had gotten much worse and asked what he should do.  The only logical response my sleep deprived brain could come up with was to bring him in the house, we did it with lambs when I was growing up, why not a calf?

It is important to note here that:

#1- He is only the size of a large dog

#2- We have a completely tiled bathroom separate from the rest of our house that was specifically designed to handle barn-yuck.

#3- I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician and have been trained to deal with contagious and zoonotic disease.

I knew that I would not be able to go out to the barn to care for him with the two babies in the house during the day, and it really wasn’t warm enough to haul a newborn out to the barn.  I also wasn’t strong enough to take my babies out to the barn with me, the walk itself was exhausting.  I also knew he would die if someone wasn’t keeping a constant eye on him.  So, my husband carried that sick little calf into the house and put him in the designated area.  I was able to get a few more cups of milk into him and let him rest.  That was all I could do for the moment.

The morning brought us explosive watery diarrhea and a calf that could not stand up.  Poor Zack was so dehydrated from diarrhea that he could barely move.  This is called scours in the cattle world and can be brought on by many things, including stress.  Like so many in the medical fields, I take sickness and death in situations like this as a personal insult, and I absolutely refused to let this calf die.  I rotated him every couple hours and I cleaned him up the best I could and got a little water into him, packed my kids up to take the oldest to school and then hurried to the local farm supply store.  I bought every single thing on the shelf related to dehydration, diarrhea, and infection I could get my hands on.  I was calling local farmers and any large animal veterinarian that would answer the phone.  I also called in a favor to a local small animal veterinarian for some IV fluids.

Armed with my supplies and advice from the large animal veterinarian, I deposited my babies with my parents who had come over to offer some assistance and did my best to re-hydrate, re-electrolyte and re-PH balance that little calf.  He also got a dose of penicillin to ward off pneumonia and shipping fever and an anti-parasitic medication in case he had a common parasite that causes diarrhea, knowing that he had been moved around a couple times before reaching our home.

Within two long, anxious hours, sneaking away from the babies as often as I could to check on him, and turn him over so he wouldn’t get sores,  Zack was standing on his own, and even more exciting he was hungry!  He was still quite weak and spent one more night in the bathroom, and the next morning my husband kicked him out because he was really starting to make a mess. And it was getting tiresome having to put on coveralls to go in and take them off and bleach our shoes to go out of his room.

That evening he started to get weak again since it was cold and it took more energy just to stay warm (Did I mention this was like the weirdest weather ever in Michigan? And April was the only cold we had had in weeks???).  I gave him another round of IV fluids and continued with his other treatments.  He was right as rain after by the next morning.

 

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Zack eating on his own after treatments!

 

Zack went on to be a great 4-H project, even if he was a little stubborn, and maybe flopped over on his side during showmanship…. But he was a sweetheart for my daughter and still is to this day.  I have to admit, I personally am a little attached to him after our experience together, and I did my level best to sell him as a bull to someone else.  Alas, that is not the way the cards fell and he will soon become nourishment for our family.

 

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My girl and her calf at the fair!

 

I know there were gasps of horror that I gave an animal intended for food medication.  But the fact is he would have died a horrible death without them and all of these medications have well left his body now a year later.  If you ran tests of his muscle tissues, you wouldn’t find a trace of the medications he had been given.  With drawl, periods are on every medication, and it is the law to follow them.  Most withdraw periods are less than two months.

I also don’t expect and totally understand that not every farmer can do (or should) what I did for Zack.  It was a big gamble that took a lot of connections, education, cursing and prayer, lots of prayers, to make it work.  The truth is, though; most farmers will do whatever they can to save an animal on their farm, even one intended for food.  I have seen many pictures of calves, or lambs or goat, you name in garages or snuggled up with their farmers in the barn trying to make sure they pull through.  And when the time comes to take those animals to their final destination, you might hear us joke about how good they will taste, or you might hear us say a good riddance.  But quietly, we whisper a small goodbye and maybe wipe a small tear of thanks away as we turn to go.

 

Curious why getting Zack 6-weeks after My Last Baby?  Click the link to read that story!

Nantucket Pork Chops

What a busy time it has been!  I have been working on exciting new things for the farm and my new soap business!  I have also been working on a very special article with a farming friend that is in the final stages of editing and it should be posting soon!

With so much activity and so much lousy weather (it has been a wonderfully warm February here in Michigan, but it has come with a lot of sloppy, muddy rain).  What is a busy lady supposed to cook her family on days like these?

I have been turning to an old family standby. Nantucket Pork Chops, they are so simple that they are deceptively delicious. With minimal ingredients and dishes it comes together quick and is hearty enough to satisfy on a cold, damp day.  No, I have no idea how they got their name!

This recipe can be adjusted slightly, but we have found that when trying to make it for more than six, it just doesn’t turn out as well.  Four chops is kind of the magic number, cooking for one or two?  It freezes great with a pat of butter on the top!

Nantuckets’

Serves 4-6

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

4-6 pork chops

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/8 tsp ground thyme (optional)

3 Tbsp Olive oil

5-7 peeled potatoes (figure 1 average potato per person plus one)

1 large onion (or two small ones)

salt & pepper

1/2-1 cup water

Butter (optional)

Directions:

In a large skillet with a cover, heat the olive oil (uncovered!) over medium heat.  Meanwhile, combine the flour, salt, pepper, thyme and mix well.  Coat the pork chops in the flour and allow them to rest for a couple minutes before placing in the hot oil.  Brown on both sides, but do not cook all the way through.

While the chops are browning, thinly slice the potatoes (about 1/4 inch thickness, too thin and they will stick the pan and too thick they will never cook).  Slice the onion into thick rounds.

Once the first side of the pork chops are browned, flip them over and top with the onions and then potatoes.  Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, top with butter if desired. Reduce the heat to medium-low and carefully pour in about 1/2 cup of water.  The water should come up about half the thickness of the chop.  Cover and let cook another 20-25 minute or until potatoes are tender.  Remove lid and allow the liquid to thicken slightly before serving.

 

The butter process, according to me!

 

I have been making homemade butter from our farm fresh cream at least once a week for around five months now, so clearly this makes me an expert. OK, so maybe not an expert, but I definitely have made some observations that I wish someone would have pointed out to me when I started making butter.
You see, that prized cream will pass through many stages on its way to becoming glorious butter. Some of those stages make you swoon and others will make you cringe in horror. I have documented each of these stages for you and will provide my own running commentary on the process.

 

Stage 1: Selecting your cream. In my case, I am choosing to use farm fresh, home pasteurized heavy cream. In my experience, you must wait at overnight after pasteurizing your cream in order for it to turn into butter. The colder it is the better, but even after just 12 hours, I have failed to make butter and ended up with some strange hybrid of butter and whipped cream that never deflates. It’s interesting to be sure, but not what we are going for here. Raw cream works just fine if that is your preference and store bought cream should work well too if farm fresh isn’t available to you.

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Stage 2: Preparing to whip. I typically whip a quarts worth of cream at a time, this produces around eight ounces of delicious butter. Because this is a rather large amount of cream to work with I use my Kitchen Aid mixer to do the work for me. My preference is the paddle attachment, but the whisk attachment also works. Your bowl and paddle need to be as clean, dry and cool as possible.
Stage 3: The slow mix: Pour the heavy cream into your bowl and begin to mix/whip at a slow speed. You are dealing with a liquid here and it will splash everywhere if you turn your speed on too high right away. Don’t worry this stage takes forever when making a quart of cream, have a cup of coffee or unload the dishwasher.
Stage 4: Bubbles: After about 5-10 minutes or so of mixing at a slower speed you will notice some bubbles starting to foam up around the edges of the bowl and an ever so faint thickening of the cream, feel free to start gradually increasing the speed of the mixer.

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Stage 5: Thicker slop: Now you have what appears to be a sloppy thick mess of cream, it moves together like a semi-solid but is still clearly a liquid… does it really take this long to make whipped cream?

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Stage 6: Soft Whipped Cream: Aha! A change! Maybe it will work after all! This looks familiar, sort of like whipped cream left sitting on top of hot fudge sauce a little too long. Progress.


Stage 7: Heaven: You will want to stop here. Your bowl is now full of soft pillowy clouds of whipped cream goodness. You will want to run for the nearest strawberry to swipe through this beautiful fluff. But alas, to make butter we must keep going.

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Stage 8: GAH! This will be the sound you make moments after you check on that gorgeous whipping cream you saw only a minute ago. Now a lumpy mess there is no turning back.

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Stage 9: It’s hideous: That lumpy mess now looks like curdled milk, you know the stuff that has been floating around in a sippy cup for the last week under the couch? That’s where we are, don’t worry you haven’t messed anything up. Press on.

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Stage 10: Starting to show promise: Now that we have passed through the truly awful stages, and if you’re like me, you cranked up the mixer to speed through the nightmare, we are entering a stage that maybe looks a little like butter. We aren’t quite there yet, but the cream if definitely thick and more yellow and buttery looking, although not quite right. Stay close, it’s going to get intense.

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Stage 11: Coming together: Now you will see that not quite butter that was crumbled all over the bowl start to stick together and form into a mass. Don’t stop now, but you might want to slow things down…

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Stage 12: Is my butter bleeding?: Ok, so it’s most certainly not blood but you will start seeing milk appear in the bottom of your bowl. TURN THE MIXER WAY DOWN! Or else it will splash several feet across your counter top. The mass will start to form a nice solid lump in just a few more turns.

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Stage 13: I did it!: Congratulations, you have made butter! And as a by-product, you have also made fresh buttermilk! Which once poured off from the butter lump is delicious to drink on its own or culture into buttermilk or use for cooking. Whatever you do, don’t waste it! Find an old farmer and give it to them as a gift, they will love you and shower you with stories of turning butter with a churn by hand.


Stage 14: The washing: In order for your butter to stay rich and delicious for more than a day or two you need to wash all of the excess milk out of it. This is done by pouring off the buttermilk, and dousing the butter with clean cold water, then mashing it around with a spatula. Rinse and repeat until the water is clear. I personally take a second to dry my bowl out, add the butter back into it and give it a spin to make sure I get all the water off my butter.


Stage 15: Salting: Should you desire salted butter, I have found it easiest to add a little bit (about ¼ tsp give or take to your taste) into the mixer with my washed butter and let it spin for a few seconds.

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Stage 16: Store or eat!: You have successfully made homemade butter. You have conquered the kitchen and taken the dairy world by storm. Enjoy your reward on some fresh homemade bread, biscuits or mashed potatoes (and if you eat it right off the paddle I won’t judge). If you are storing your butter pack it into an airtight container and keep in the fridge for the longest shelf life (about 1-2 weeks). You can also freeze it if you have more than you can use quickly… That is never a problem in my house!

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